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Ledkins v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 21, 2019

KAREN C. LEDKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SONJA F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Karen C. Ledkins (hereinafter “Plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and 1381, et seq. On October 19, 2018, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 19). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

         I. Procedural History[1]

         Plaintiff filed her applications for benefits on January 5, 2015, and February 24, 2015, alleging disability beginning May 24, 2012, based on severe major depression, fibromyalgia, spinal stenosis, migraines, knee replacement, and bone spurs in shoulders. (Doc. 12 at 174, 176, 192, 196). Plaintiff's application was denied and upon timely request, she was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge L. Dawn Pischek (hereinafter “ALJ”) on September 21, 2016. (Id. at 41). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her attorney and provided testimony related to her claims. (Id. at 44). A vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 64). On April 14, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 14). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 5, 2017. (Id. at 5). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated April 14, 2017, became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was conducted on November 8, 2018. (Doc. 22). This case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         II. Issues on Appeal

         1. Whether substantial evidence supports the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) for a range of light work with the stated restrictions?

         2. Whether the ALJ erred in relying on the vocational expert's testimony that there were jobs that Plaintiff could perform?

         III. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born on March 16, 1965, and was fifty-one years of age at the time of her administrative hearing on September 21, 2016. (Doc. 12 at 41, 192). Plaintiff graduated from high school and completed three years of college, obtaining a certificate to be a respiratory technician. (Id. at 45).

         Plaintiff last worked from 2007 to 2012 as a bus driver for the Mobile County School System. (Id. at 197). Prior to that, she worked from 2001 to 2008 as a bus driver for the Harrison County School System, from 1998 to 2001 as a casino dealer, and from 2005 to 2006 as a cashier at Dollar General. (Id.).

         Plaintiff testified that she can no longer work because she cannot stand for long periods of time because of knee pain, and she has problems with lifting and reaching because of neck and shoulder pain, as well as fibromyalgia. (Id. at 45-49). Plaintiff testified that she has had surgery on her knee, neck, and shoulders. (Id. at 48-49, 55). Plaintiff testified that she takes medication for depression and fibromyalgia, which has helped. (Id. at 50-51, 59).

         IV. Standard of Review

         In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied.[2]Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance” and consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision. Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).

         V. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         An individual who applies for Social Security disability benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a claimant has proven his disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         The claimant must first prove that he or she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity. The second step requires the claimant to prove that he or she has a severe impairment or combination of impairments. If, at the third step, the claimant proves that the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals a listed impairment, then the claimant is automatically found disabled regardless of age, education, or work experience. If the claimant cannot prevail at the third step, he or she must proceed to the fourth step where the claimant must prove an inability to perform their past relevant work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001, 1005 (11th Cir. 1986). At the fourth step, the ALJ must make an assessment of the claimant's RFC. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1238 (llth Cir. 2004). The RFC is an assessment, based on all relevant medical and other evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to work despite his impairment. See Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (llth Cir. 1997).

         If a claimant meets his or her burden at the fourth step, it then becomes the Commissioner's burden to prove at the fifth step that the claimant is capable of engaging in another kind of substantial gainful employment which exists in significant numbers in the national economy, given the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work history. Sryock v. Heckler,764 F.2d 834, 836 (11th Cir. 1985). If the Commissioner can demonstrate that there are such jobs the claimant can perform, the claimant must prove inability to perform those jobs in order to be found disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 ...


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